OPERA / Starless night: Raymond Monelle on La Boheme at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow

ELIJAH Moshinsky's production of La Boheme, with beautiful designs by Michael Yeargan that resemble a set of accomplished book illustrations, has become a Scottish institution. It is now in its fifth year and has seen a series of casts, including a few real stars. When we first saw it we were struck by what seemed perceptive novelties. The framing of Act One in a narrow rectangle made us think of a TV screen; the convertible set that permitted the transfer of the bohemians to the interior of the Cafe Momus, rather than its forecourt, reminded us that the first two acts take place on Christmas Eve when Paris is usually cold.

Nowadays, the whole thing seems merely elegant and unchallenging. The current revival has a competent cast, though it lacks stars. Caroline Sharman's handling of the production has none of Moshinsky's clarity and sense of timing; she fails to highlight the details, so that without the supertitles, which broke down early in the evening, it was hard to know exactly what was happening.

Marco Guidarini, who conducted an earlier revival, had formerly a tendency to rush at everything. This time, the first act was quite the reverse - lazy and dull; there was a resurgence of breathless overdrive in Act Two. It was hard not to like Peter Bronder, whose Rodolfo was fragile and young, with a slight sense of doom and sadness. He sang with judicious phrasing and a discreet clarity of diction, not attempting heroic outbursts or lingering suspenses; the opera seemed like the tragedy of a decent boy with Anglo-Saxon self-control.

Katerina Kudriavchenko, on the other hand, had more vocal muscle than she needed for the part of Mimi. She spent her time scaling the voice down, and her delicacies and intimacies sometimes got dangerously near to stalling speed. She is remembered in Scotland for her performances with the Bolshoi Opera; on full throttle she has plenty of beauty and colour. Perhaps she will settle into the filigree of this production after a few performances.

If you thought of Musetta as a soubrette, then Sally Harrison's version of the part would have been too noisy and tough; there was not much brilliance or flickering sunshine. Gordon Sandison's Marcello was a pretty weighty customer, too, and the Colline of Stephen Bennett was a serious man, his farewell to the overcoat almost like a piece of early music by Handel or Monteverdi.

After some confusion in Act Three, the final act at last gained the pacing and purpose that Guidarini had been seeking all evening. Bronder's eloquent acting carried the day, and the opera ended as an authentic three-hanky job, just as it should.

(Photograph omitted)

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